What we are doing to help Nigeria— Finnish Ambassador

Emerging markets, across Africa, are jittery, due partly to the trade war between China and US on one hand and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’s nuclear power. This principally underpins the epiphany of the flashing red lights in the economic index of most countries on the continent.

In Nigeria for instance, rising debt profile with its corresponding rising interest rate, infrastructural deficit coupled with epileptic policy regime are toxic combination and indeed, the unsettling dynamics for negative demographic projections.

Expectedly, as we approach the 3rd decade of the 21st century, there are feasts of analyses, recommendations and forecasts from range of voices that aim to enthrone uninterrupted expansion of Nigerian economy for tops in the growth league as Africa’s largest economy.

Among the voices is Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen, Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria. He spoke to OpenLife in this exclusive interview

 What is Finland’s specific policy towards Africa?

Finland has a long history in Africa.  Our active role started in the beginning of the 20th century with church missionaries who came to Africa with their own agenda to help those who needed it the most. The official Finland came to Africa later in the 1960’s when Finland started development co-operation with some African countries, including Nigeria, where Finland established her first embassy in Africa in 1962. 

Finland never had any colonies in Africa. This is why Finland has remained as impartial and trusted partner for Africans. The neutral role of Finland also made it possible for our former President and Nobel Laureate Martti Ahtisaari to negotiate peace in Namibia.  

Finland does not have a specific written policy towards Africa. In many aspects, we have been supporting EU’s Africa policy. However, during the last few years Africa has also been rising in Finland’s own political agenda. As African countries want to look beyond aid, Finland is preparing to tighten its economic and political ties with those African countries with whom we have had long-lasting collaboration. I am sure that Nigeria, the biggest economy of Africa, and the only Western African country where Finland has an embassy, will become an important chapter in Finland’s upcoming Africa policy. 

What are those areas Finland has comparative advantage that can attract the world to your country?

Finland is known for many qualities that are considered attractive globally and also here in Africa. I already mentioned the peaceful reputation of Finland that creates trust among our partners. In current world, trust is also one of the cornerstones of stable, growing economy. You can rely on the fact that the Finnish products and technologies are from the top of the world.

The most accolade sector of Finland might be education. It is ranked the best in the world in many international comparisons. In Africa, Finnish education expertise has been utilized in most of our development cooperation programmes. Now the Finnish education expertise is available also for commercial use.

Other sectors that I would like to mention are forestry, ICT, and clean technology. Forestry, paper and pulp are still our biggest leg of economy and perhaps the strongest also globally. Biotechnology has transformed it to its current leading edge industry where almost anything can be produced from wood. Plastic, biodiesel, clothes, just to mention some applications. ICT is the most well-known industry of Finland. It was first developed within paper and pulp industry automation, leading to the development of the telecommunication giant Nokia. Nokia is now one of the leading global 5G network developers. In 5G, which forms the backbone of the industrialized Internet of Things, the trust our country and industry has gained, is again the topmost advantage of Nokia 5G networks. 

The global climate change and environment awareness of Finns has pushed Finland to develop smart to environment-friendly technology. It is also referred as “circular economy”, as the business idea is to turn waste back into raw materials for production of new goods.  Just look around in Africa, this type of industry is needed urgently here. Just to add, there are some brands that you may have seen also here in Nigeria, but not been aware that they come from Finland. One is KONE. It is currently one of the leading elevator companies in the world. Another one is Wärtsilä that is manufacturing power plants globally. Quite many of them are here in Nigeria. And all airports of Nigeria have weather forecast technology from Vaisala, a leading company in the world securing safe landing and takeoffs of all flying Nigerians.
Finland has not been outspoken on global affairs but seems vocal on issues relating to Europe and Russia. What underline your international relations?

Finland is a member state of European Union since 1995. We share the European values and we are a firm supporter of the European Union in many global issues. Our global voice in multilateral arenas is European. In addition, we have our Nordic neighbors in the west and Russia in the east. Finland has historic ties with all of them. 

What is the ethnic make-up of your country?

I would rather speak about cultural make-up. As I said, we have historic ties with our neighboring countries. We used to be part of Sweden and then part of Russia, before we gained our independence in 1917. We also have people in the north of Finland, who are indigenous Sami people. They inhabited northern Europe before the Finns and other Europeans arrived in the region. In addition to Finnish, Swedish and Sami, Russian is also widely spoken in Finland.  Our culture is an amalgamation of all the northern cultures and we are a multilingual nation. Our constitution and our legislation guarantees that we serve all our people equally. 

As an ambassador, what are the specific goals you intend to achieve for your country?

The Finnish Embassy in Abuja focuses on tightening our trade relations with Nigeria. There is so much more we could do together in business, especially in the fields of education, ICT and telecommunication, sustainable energy and smart grid technologies, among other sectors.  The global success of Finnish companies is very much based on the competent workforce thanks to our education system, but also our competitive innovation system.  I would be very interested to integrate Finnish innovation approach into the development of Nigerian economy together with the best Nigerian innovation hubs. This is the best way to ensure that the businesses that we can co-create together will serve the interests of both Nigeria and Finland.   

What are your projections for Nigerian in view of the beginning of a fresh tenure?

I started my tenure some nine months ago. It has been a learning curve for me to understand what is happening here in Nigeria. What is happening in politics now after the elections and how will the economy grow?  According to some international assessments, the main problem is that the economy is growing more slowly than the population. If this continues, Nigerians become poorer in the future.  Nigeria being the biggest economy of Africa and the most populous country in Africa, this trend is alarming.  

How can Nigeria become a true economic and political leader in Africa?

Nigeria needs to diversify its economy and integrate better in the global economy in order to be competitive in Africa. I believe this is also what is currently happening. However, I just hope that there will be a strategic and innovative shift in the economy of Nigeria in near future. Crude oil alone won’t sustain the growth in the long run. To become the leader in Africa, it is my firm view, that only through substantial and new investments to education,  Nigeria can shift the country to more positive development tracks in order to gain the leadership position in Africa in the future. Finland is ready to be a trusted partner for Nigeria in this endeavor. 

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